NASA is planning to launch the next crewed space station near the Moon to support the Artemis mission. The Gateway, formerly known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, will house astronauts so they can perform science experiments away from Earth, support lunar missions, and perhaps do telerobotics engineering works.
It is a joint project by NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and Roscosmos.
NASA is hoping to bring this plan to fruition in the 2020s in time for the Artemis mission that was targeting a 2024 lunar landing but was deemed "not feasible" by the Office of Inspector General because of the spacesuit development delays. That means the timeline for this program could also change.
The History of Gateway
According to Space.com, the concept of Gateway started back in the early 2010s when in 2012, NASA publicly discussed the idea of having a lunar space station that they will call the Deep Space Habitat. Then by 2014 and 2015, NASA announced its plans of sending humans on longer missions in the 2020s using cislunar habitats.
In 2017, NASA has documented its plans for a lunar space station that they refer to as the Deep Space Gateway. Then in 2018, it changed to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). But later on, the space agency just simply called it the Gateway.
By 2019, NASA collaborated with Northrop Grumman to build the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) needed for the lunar space station. Its habitation is designed similar to Cygnus cargo spacecraft that have ferried equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
According to Northrop Grumman, the habitat can house up to four astronauts for 30 to 90 days and will serve as their station where they can embark and return from expeditions to the Moon. In June 2020, the company was awarded $187 million to design the habitat module that was completed in November.
This year, the company further received a $935 million contract to complete the design and development of habitation and logistics of Gateway. The module will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2024.
NASA Forced to De-Prioritize Gateway
The original plan for Gateway was to send it to lunar orbit before launching the manned mission of Artemis III. Universe Today previously reported that this scenario would involve launching the crew from Earth via the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft then dock on Gateway lunar space station. This mission will be accomplished by using a reusable lunar lander.
But NASA was forced to de-prioritize the Gateway because they had to expedite the schedule introduced by the previous administration wherein Artemis III is scheduled to launch on October 2024. The space agency had to consider other options, such as enlisting private sectors to develop the Human Landing System that could be integrated into the Orion spacecraft and later on the Gateway.
More so, they also enlisted the help of commercial launch p[providers to deploy the Gateway so they could focus on mounting the crewed Artemis missions.
NASA has awarded SpaceX an approximately $331.9 million contract to launch the lunar space station's Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and HALO elements as early as May 2024, which will be launched onboard Falcon Heavy from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
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